Daughters of Darkness – Blu-ray Review

Labels like “cult” or “Euro sleaze” can only take a movie so far before some consider it simply “boring”. Daughters of Darkness, the latest Blu-ray transfer from Blue Underground (the studio that brought us City of the Living Dead, Maniac, The Toolbox Murders, and The Crazies, among others, on Blu-ray), flirts heartily with that fine line, ultimately ending up on the wrong side.

A young, sexy, recently eloped couple – Stefan (John Karlen) and Valerie (Danielle Ouimet) – find their way to a luxury hotel in Ostend, Belgium. Unfortunately for them (or not), so have the Hungarian Countess Elizabeth Bathory (Deplhine Seyrig – Last Year at Marienbad) and her beautiful “companion” Ilona (Andrea Rau). Valerie insists that Stefan call his mother to tell her of the marriage, but Stefan mysteriously denies her requests. Outside of Ostend, in Bruges, corpses of virgins show up, drained of all their blood. Stefan and Valerie decide to visit Bruges, where Stefan shows a weird fascination with one of the dead bodies. When they return, the Countess catches them, and asks them to join her for drinks in the lobby. The conversation quickly turns to the local headlines of the dead girls, which gets Stefan’s heart racing, and Valerie scared. The Countess decides that the three of them will become great friends, whether Valerie wants to or not.

The biggest problem with Daughters of Darkness is the slow moving plot, and tired story, which is merely a vampire trying to turn others into vampires; we’ve seen it thousands of times before. Daughters of Darkness attempts to set itself apart – and successfully at times – by adding in eroticism and nudity. This only happens in small doses, tucked away between the extensive, often boring dialogue of the characters that seems to have no point. The film tries to hide its fangs, so to speak, and not expose that it is a vampire flick too early, but this works against it: instead of watching violent, bloody death scenes, we are told of the Bruges murders through a newspaper headline; instead of watching the sexual encounters between characters, we are shown the beginning, or ending, of the encounter. Daughters of Darkness could work better by pushing the envelope further instead of implying itself to death.

Though the film is dialogue heavy to a fault, the actors involved – all four of the main characters, and the two supporting roles – are quite remarkable. Deplhine Seyrig is a mature seductress, as well as manipulative and powerful as the Countess. Her companion, the younger, jealous, sex slave (or so it is implied), played by Andrea Rau, is in wonderful contrast to Seyrig’s performance, making the couple engaging throughout. Danielle Ouimet has to be one of the most beautiful women I have seen in film from this era, and like the last couple, plays in perfect contrast to the domineering, experienced John Karlen. Karlen’s character is mysterious throughout, and his story is the most inexplicable. There is a phone conversation in the film that Karlen’s character has that can throw off even the most astute ’70s-era vampire fanatics. It’s odd (but not out of place given the atmosphere of the film), and is left unexplained throughout the movies 100-minute runtime. That isn’t to take anything away from Karlen’s performance, however, as he plays the eccentric enigma that is Stefan delightfully.

The biggest problem with Daughters of Darkness lie in the roots of the film: the story. The final twenty minutes of the movie, when the action finally picks up, are not enough to make the viewer forget the previous 80 minutes worth of inconsequential story. Frankly, for an erotic vampire film, Daughters of Darkness has a surprising lack of on-screen sex and vampirism. More could have been fleshed out with the relationships between Stefan and dead bodies, Stefan and his mother, Stefan and Valerie, Ilona and the Countess, the bellboy and the Countess, and so on. All these relationships should have been clearer, especially given the running time. Daughters of Darkness relies, instead, on atmosphere (which is set up well thanks to the filming locations) and the implications that sex and violence are happening. That isn’t to say there isn’t any sex or blood in the film because there is; for a film that markets itself as an erotic vampire movie, though, there should have been, and could have been, a lot more of both. Daughters of Darkness has a strong cult following, and that following probably won’t grow too much with this Blu-ray Disc (BD) release.

Blue Underground delivers another successful Blu-ray transfer with Daughters of Darkness. The 1080p Widescreen presentation with a 1.66:1 contrast ratio looks great, and nicely handles the overwhelming shades of blue the director uses in the dark shots, sans the opening of the film. In that opening scene, the blue shading washes out the actors almost completely, but this problem resolves itself quickly. The outdoor shots, and the wide use of color, look great in 1080p. The audio presentation on this Blu-ray, for better or worse, never stands out. Blue Underground provides an English or French DTS-HD Mono audio choice, as well as English SDH, French, and Spanish subtitle options. The audio is sufficient, and there are no points in the film where the dialogue is lost.

Locations of Darkness (21:37): This feature, presented in standard definition, contains interviews with co-writer/director Harry Kumel and co-writer/co-producer Pierre Drouot. The interviews were filmed on-location where the movie was created, and the men tour the filming spots as they exist today: the Astoria Hotel in Brussels and the Hotel Des Thermes in Ostende. The color choices, which are noticeable while watching the film, are talked about quite a bit through the feature. Drouot checks out before Kumel visits the Hotel Des Thermes, but this is the hotel that was used for the outdoor shots in the movie, as well as the dinner scene. Kumel and Drouot are very personable, funny, and excited to talk about Daughters of Darkness, making this an excellent special feature that is filled with tons of specific information regarding the filming of the movie.

Playing the Victim (15:29): This is an interview with Danielle Ouimet. Ouimet talks about her film experiences prior to Daughters of Darkness, which included Valérie, and its sequel. She talks about the experience of getting to know her co-star, John Karlen, as well as handling the nudity in the movie. She makes mention of a sex book that was used to find positions for the opening scene just like Kumel talks about in the first special feature. This is more genuinely interesting information from behind-the-scenes.

Daughter of Darkness (7:59): A third standard definition feature that contains an interview with Andrea Rau. Rau speaks German, but is subtitled throughout the interview. Right at the start, Rau mentions that she was a model, including posing for “Playboy”. She, too, sings director Harry Kumel’s praises during the interview. This is another successful feature worth watching.

Theatrical Trailer (2:09)

Radio Spots (2:04): Four different radio commercials for Daughters of Darkness. As someone who doesn’t hear these very often, this is a neat feature. All four of the radio spots use an echo effect, which is a fun choice, and fitting for the genre. This is a short, but welcome, special feature.

The Blood Splattered Bride (1:40:56): This full-length movie is only given a standard definition treatment, but is still one of the best reasons to own this package. The Blood Splattered Bride makes Daughters of Darkness look tame, and I almost wish this movie was the one that received the Blu-ray transfer.

A young bride gives in to her husband’s darkest sexual fantasies, but an evil force begins to convince her to do terrible things to her controlling husband. This film is filled with more blood and sex than the featured film on the disc, and though it can prove more confusing, is a great genre film that mixes lesbianism, reincarnation, and brutality quite well.

This Daughters of Darkness Blu-ray package is filled with quality special features, nice video quality, adequate sound quality, and a decent main attraction. For my money, The Blood Splattered Bride is the main reason to own this BD because it goes those dark, sadistic places that Daughters of Darkness does not. Fans of either of these cult favorites will absolutely want to buy this BD. Daughters of Darkness is in a genre of films that some will love and others will find boring – few will be somewhere in between – so new viewers may want to play it safe by renting first.

Blue Underground presents Daughters of Darkness. Directed by: Harry Kumel. Starring: Delphine Seyrig, John Karlen, Danielle Ouimet, and Andrea Rau. Written by: Pierre Drouot, Harry Kümel, and Jean Ferry. Running time: 100 minutes. Rating: Not Rated. Released on Blu-ray: March 1, 2011.

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